Since 2008, my only base in America has been the backyard of my parents’ beach cottage in Huntington Beach. I have mostly been living abroad during this time, but whenever I’ve been Stateside, I’ve stayed in a recreational vehicle parked on the slab out back. While my Dad was alive, there were four or five incarnations of that vehicle, used trailers and RVs that he’d pick up as a bargain, and then either get rid of or let disintegrate.
My siblings finally hauled off his last purchase, a Toyota Dolphin that had started falling apart the minute he got it through the back gate, while I was working in Saudi Arabia. Then COVID happened when I was traveling in Southeast Asia and my brother picked up a pop-up camper from his neighbor, as I had nowhere to go. So here I sit again, the luckiest hobo in the zoo.
Huntington Beach started off as a Spanish land grant and what is now Beach Boulevard was once used to drive cattle down. The main industry was sugar production until oil was discovered in the 1920s. At one point an encyclopedia company had run a promotion giving plots of land in the area to anyone who bought a complete set of encyclopedias. Knowledge is power has never proven truer than it did for the lucky home scholars who wound up with those deeds. For many years the prominent landmarks of Huntington Beach would be the hundreds of oil derricks that lined the coast.
It’s reputation as a holiday destination goes back as far as 1904, when the first pier was built out of wooden timbers, stretching a thousand feet. For a while the city was billed as Pacific City, as the Pacific Electric Red Car Line would bring visitors down from Los Angeles for beach outings. The man behind the railroad line, Henry Huntington, acquired most of the land rights and Pacific City became Huntington Beach.
Nowadays, Huntington Beach is probably best known for its designation as one of the top surfing spots in the world. In 2004 it officially became Surf City USA. Surfing was introduced by two Hawaiians, George Freeth, who put on a demonstration at the pier in 1914, and Duke Kahanamoku, who popularized it in the 1920s and is widely regarded as the father of modern surfing. The many local shapers and board shops helped revolutionize the sport and every year the city hosts the US Open of Surfing.
It is a tough place to be a middle-aged kook. Even though I was born in Hawaii, we moved while I was still in elementary school, and we moved out to California my junior year of high school, so I didn’t even paddle out until I was almost thirty. My brother and a friend of his started dragging me out to the north side of the pier on a borrowed board in the middle of winter. The water would be freezing cold and it was a victory just to make it out to the lineup. My perception was that there was a trench out there that just pitches up endless walls. On most days, that is still my perception.
After three months of paddling out nearly every day, and a couple of occasions feeling stoked, catching waves on the shoulder instead of just bursting out of the breakwater like a torpedo, the North Swell started firing the first week of December, and I haven’t really had a decent session since. A few weeks ago, I upgraded from my foam Wavestorm to an old performance longboard of Jake’s, a dinged-up punk rock masterpiece, with a crutch painted on the bottom, but haven’t had a chance to do much on it outside of drop off a few walls and get mangled.
This morning I went out with Boone at Tower 5 and the waves were slushy, only breaking when they almost reached the shore. Always too much or too little. That’s the eternal dilemma of the kook. Afterwards, I put my new board, the Crutch, in the surf rack of the Holstein Charger and pedaled up to Bolsa Chica on surf patrol.
Around Seasalt I saw a figure I recognized. It was the old surfer, Curly, from the gathering. We talked surf for a while, then I asked if he remembered me, since we’d only met once or twice. Of course, he did. I was Little Wave Dave. He was being funny, but he was also right. It’s a title I could probably own.